NEW YORK: Daesh has up to 30,000 members roughly equally distributed between Syria and Iraq and its global network poses a rising threat — as does Al-Qaeda, which is much stronger in places, a UN report says.
The report by UN experts circulated on Monday said that despite the defeat of Daesh in Iraq and most of Syria, it is likely that a reduced “covert version” of the terrorist group’s “core” will survive in both countries, with significant affiliated supporters in Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa.
The experts said Al-Qaeda’s global network also “continues to show resilience,” with its affiliates and allies much stronger than Daesh in some spots, including Somalia, Yemen, South Asia and Africa’s Sahel region.
Al-Qaeda’s leaders in Iran “have grown more prominent” and have been working with the extremist group’s top leader, Ayman Al-Zawahri, “projecting his authority more effectively than he could previously” including on events in Syria, the experts said.
The report to the Security Council by experts monitoring sanctions against Daesh and Al-Qaeda said the estimate of the current total Daesh membership in Iraq and Syria came from governments it did not identify. The estimate of between 20,000 and 30,000 members includes “a significant component of the many thousands of active foreign terrorist fighters,” it said.
While many Daesh men have been killed in fighting, and many other fighters and supporters have left the immediate conflict zone, the experts said many still remain in the two countries — some engaged militarily “and others hiding out in sympathetic communities and urban areas.”
With its physical caliphate largely destroyed, Daesh is transforming from a “proto-state” to a covert “terrorist” network, “a process that is most advanced in Iraq” because it still controls pockets in Syria, the report said.
The experts said the discipline imposed by Daesh remains intact and its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi “remains in authority” despite reports that he was injured.
“It is just more delegated than before, by necessity, to the wider network outside the conflict zone,” the experts said.
The flow of foreign fighters to Daesh in Syria and Iraq has come to a halt, they said, but “the reverse flow, although slower than expected, remains a serious challenge.”